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Knowledge exchange trip to Holland provides new insight

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Fruit growers from across the UK attended a knowledge exchange trip to Holland recently, to learn about the latest in breeding, research and marketing.

The excursion included a visit to one of the largest tree nurseries in the Netherlands – Fleuren, as well as an introduction to the work of fruit breeders Fresh Forward, and a tour of Wageningen University Research orchard trials.

The visit began with insight into some of Fresh Forward’s latest innovations in apple varieties from Product Developer, Saskia Elsen. Working alongside Wageningen University Research, Fresh Forward has developed leading new varieties including Magic Star®, Wellant® and Freya®.

During her presentation, Saskia explained how in a consumer-led market, the business’s key drivers are to develop varieties that have a long shelf-life, are scab resistant and that offer an excellent taste profile. To demonstrate this, the group was invited to participate in a blind taste test of Fresh Forward’s flagship apple varieties, some of which are being currently retailed in the UK.

Saskia said: “Magic Star is a conventional variety that’s a cross between Elise and a scab resistant selection. Not only do consumers love its crunchy bite and sweet taste, but it also has a remarkably long shelf-life. Because it’s harvested at a similar time to Braeburn, it also offers growers plenty of time for picking, making Magic Star a key innovation within apple breeding.”

After the taste test, the group were then taken on a tour of Wageningen University Research’s orchards, to learn about apple rootstock trials and developments within training plum cordons.

Mark Davies, Head of Fruit at Agrovista said: “The Fruit Team is involved in so many facets of the production cycle, it is really important to us that we add value to our relationship with growers. Excursions like this are an excellent way to illustrate our knowledge base, and we are very lucky to have contacts such as Fleuren and Wageningen University to work with. It’s amazing to hear of the breadth of discussion on such trips, and having spoken to several growers since, I know that it was a great learning experience for all.”

The group’s visit to Fleuren was hosted by Sales and Technical Supervisor, Sjaak Walraven. Fleuren supplies fruit trees to professional growers across the world, developing new tree shapes and plant systems to help set their customers apart from the competition.

The visit aimed to provide an overview of the whole production process through three sites – a field over the border in Germany to witness growing and harvesting young trees, Fleuren’s quality control centre and cold store, and Head Office for a business presentation and introduction to wider services such as weather system WolkyTolky.

With Dutch planting systems admired globally, Sjaak believes it’s Fleuren’s passion for innovation that ensures the business thrives. He said: “Fleuren invented the now globally renowned Knip Tree innovation, which enables the development of high-density fruit orchards andallows for earlier cropping. This is not only for apples, but also sweet cherries and plums.

“We are also active in rootstock development, notably Q-Eline pear. This is the first pear rootstock that is truly frost resistant with a smooth skin and is compatible with various popular varieties including Conference. It was our pleasure to host the group. We believe sharing best practice is very important in ensuring that as an industry, we can operate in a sustainable manner, maximising production in the most economically viable manner.”

The excursion was organised and overseen by Agrovista Fruit, with those attending representing Clock House Farm, Bardsley England, Stocks Farm, Tillington Top Fruit Ltd, Fairfield’s Farm and W.B Chambers.

Richard Capper of Stocks Farm is a member of Wye Fruit Ltd. He said: “I hadn’t taken part in an apple taste test before, so found it really fascinating, as well as learning about the new varieties coming to market. I believe high quality research and development is key to the future prosperity of our industry, so it was great to be involved in this excursion and see the work that Dutch growers are doing to move our sector forward. I highly recommend this type of excursion, Agrovista is a forward-thinking company, so it was a pleasure to be invited and gain a new perspective on our work.”

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